Worst nightmares come true: Turkey begins siege in Syria.

Also, why did Trump pull the troops out now?

Today’s read: 8 minutes.

Turkey follows through on war in Syria, why Trump pulled the troops out now and a fascinating study on political tribalism.

Screenshot of Syrian citizens fleeing / CNN

Reminder.

Tangle hits your inbox Monday through Thursday, around lunchtime (EST), with the occasional special Friday edition. If you haven’t yet, be sure to favorite this email or mark it as “important,” that way it will always show up in your inbox and not some other folder. Enjoy your weekend and I’ll see you back here on Monday.


Breaking news.

Two Soviet-born men who donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Donald Trump and helped Rudy Giuliani dig up dirt on Joe Biden were arrested early Thursday morning. Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were businessmen in Florida who have appeared in now-deleted Facebook photos with Donald Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. The men donated $325,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC and last May, Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, identified the men as his clients. Now they have been arrested for violating campaign finance laws.


What D.C. is talking about.

Turkey. Yesterday, Turkey launched an air and ground assault in northern Syria, just as people expected they would after Trump moved hundreds of U.S. soldiers out of the region. The Syrian militia that was left behind has been a major U.S. ally, crucial in the fight against ISIS, and now faces a more advanced, heavily-armed Turkish army that is expected to lay waste to the region. Reports from the ground indicate that heavily populated civilian areas are being bombed, Turkish fighter jets are omnipresent in the skies and traffic jams are seizing the cities as citizens try to flee to safety. After six hours of airstrikes, Turkish troops crossed into Syria on the ground, The New York Times reported. 181 airstrikes have been conducted and 16 Kurdish soldiers, along with two civilians, are already dead.

What Republicans are saying.

This is exactly what we said would happen. Trump is almost universally alone on this — to a stunning degree — and apparently did not heed any warnings from the conservatives around him. Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham said Trump “shamelessly abandoned” America’s Kurdish allies and claimed the troop withdrawal “ensures the re-emergence of ISIS.” Marco Rubio hit a similar note: “We degraded ISIS using Kurd’s as the ground force,” he tweeted. “Now we have abandoned them & they face annihilation at the hands of the Turkish military.” Republicans and Democrats also crafted bipartisan legislation that they say will punish Turkey for its invasion of northern Syria. The legislation would impose harsh sanctions on Turkey, restrict Turkish officials’ visas to the U.S. and prohibit most U.S. military assistance to Turkey. In response, Trump has warned Republican leaders in the Senate that if any of them break ranks — either on Syria or impeachment — they risk feeling the wrath of POTUS, who is willing to sink re-election campaigns come 2020.

Some other Trump allies are sticking by the president, but they’re hard to find. Sen. Rand Paul has been an outspoken supporter of Trump’s decision, saying he is the “first President in my lifetime to understand what is our national interest and what is not.” More fringe Trump supporters, especially those with the “America-first” or nationalistic instincts, have also stuck by the president. Ryan James Gidursky, who authors a national populism newsletter, has also been backing Trump, taking the angle that bombing Arab countries and having a presence in them has only made the region hate us more. Pulling out now will be positive for the U.S. in the long run, even if it comes at a big cost at this moment.

What Democrats are saying.

“Told ya so.” Democrats are using this moment to remind Republicans that they’ve made a deal with the devil. Some of the conservatives who are most appalled now are also Trump’s biggest enablers and allies: Graham, Rubio, Nikki Haley — it’s a who’s who of the “establishment” Republicans who have spent three years justifying and defending every moment Trump seemed unfit for the job. Now that he’s pulled the rug out from under them with this, their embarrassment is complete. Even liberals who support reducing America’s presence overseas can’t get behind this move, saying it came to erratically and with little forethought or planning. There’s also the obvious elephant in the room: the Syria troop presence was fairly small and very low-risk. American troops weren’t dying on Syria’s northern border, their presence there alone is what kept things peaceful. Not only did Trump not “bring those troops home,” he just moved them out of the way to clear the path for Turkish forces. So the troops are still in Syria, just in a different part of Syria, and now our allies are at risk of being slaughtered.

My take.

Anytime I struggle to find an opposing viewpoint on issues like this, I get a little suspicious. Almost everyone I follow or interact with has fallen into a spectrum from harshly criticizing this move to supporting Trump’s motives but conceding it was done a bit too hastily. The one all-out defense and praise of the move came from Turkey’s communications director, who penned an op-ed in The Washington Post with plenty of creative liberties.

As a general rule, I am also skeptical of U.S. intervention overseas, particularly in the Middle East. I think Trump is onto something when he talks about the way our allies could step up with their military and their money to defend global NATO priorities. If you’ve ever spent time comparing the U.S. military budget to what it spends on its schools or health care you may also walk away feeling like we are due for a reduction in size, presence or investment. But as far as military operations go, what the U.S. was doing in Syria seemed like the best bang for its buck you could ask for. Our soldiers were not on the front lines of a war that they were dying in every day. They were keeping the peace by being there, acting as a deterrent that other nations would never attack for fear of retaliation. It was perhaps the starkest example of ruling with a big stick. We were also containing a massive prison with thousands of ISIS soldiers and family members who are now at risk of fleeing into neighboring countries.

Indeed, the moment the U.S. moved those troops, Turkey began wreaking havoc on the area. Two civilians, one an infant, are already dead. 46 are wounded and 16 Kurdish fighters have been killed. That’s as we just enter the beginning of Day 2. Along with the bloodshed, I tend to agree with the darkest predictions out there: that this will harm our alliances for years to come. The Kurds gave so much, more than 10,000 of their own people, to support us in the fight against ISIS. They were the fight against ISIS. And now we’ve broken the promise and left them behind for a battle they will inevitably lose. Trump can say he will ensure Turkey will act “humanely” or remain “in line,” but the battle has already begun and the people are already dying. The time to reverse course has passed.


Your questions, answered.

If you have a question you want answered, simply reply to this email and write in. Tangle is all about helping you, the reader, get the information you want without having to wade through the news.

Q: I was wondering why Trump would have picked now (or ever, for that matter) to pull troops out of Syria, when it seems like just about everyone is lambasting him for it. Is this just some passion project of his? Is it another attempt as we have seen before to create a distraction when there are other things in the news that he would rather everyone forget about? Does he maybe just like the cut of Erdogan's jib and want to do him a favor? Seems like too politically vulnerable a moment for him to do something universally unpopular.

- David, New York, NY.

Tangle: First, if you aren’t familiar with the situation in Syria, I encourage you to go read Monday’s Tangle. This is a question I’ve been surprised more people aren’t asking. Part of the reason the question hasn’t been answered is that to give it a holistic response requires a bit of speculation. As a reporter, speculating is almost like a cardinal sin — if you’re going to publish something you better either have some evidence or have some people you can attribute that speculation to.

Fortunately (for me and you), this isn’t a news article, it’s my newsletter, so the standards are a little different. I’m allowed and even asked to speculate a bit. So let me give you some speculation:

The first and most likely reason (to me) that Trump is doing this now is because he had a phone call with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. I know that might sound absurdly simple, but it’s not so far-fetched. What we know about the phone call, right now, is that Erdogan and Trump agreed on the outlines of a $100 billion trade deal, agreed to drop the ban on Turkey’s purchases of U.S.-made F-35 fighter jets, and set up an Erdogan visit to the White House. We also now know they agreed to create this safe zone in northern Syria, which effectively meant abandoning the Kurds — who have been U.S. allies for some time — and moving out U.S. forces.

But the biggest win Erdogan got in that deal was that Trump somehow suddenly felt comfortable leaving the Kurdish fighters alone in northern Syria. It’s no secret how Erdogan feels about them (he believes many are terrorists) and it’s not as if Trump didn’t know who these fighters were or what they’ve done. Take a look at this video from September 26, 2018:

Which brings me to the crux of my answer: Trump is always listening to the last person he spoke with. His shifting positions have long been something people grappled with, but about a year into his presidency reporters began cultivating a theory — and it’s one I subscribe to closely: In almost all cases, Trump’s position on an issue is tied closely to the very last person he spoke to. It’s why he’s been convinced to meet with DACA recipients despite wanting to dynamite the program or why he once briefly reversed course on whether or not China was a currency manipulator. He’s flip-flopped on NATO, NAFTA, health care, the Fed Chair, torture, and even his feelings on The New York Times. The Washington Post did a round-up of these flip flops, based on who he spoke to last, here. QZ has published an article about it here, too.

So why now? If I had to guess, I’d bet that Erdogan had Trump’s ear for an extended period of time and he convinced him that there were malignant forces amongst the Kurds, and perhaps even terrorists. He probably told a compelling story about how Turkish forces could move in without killing any civilians or very few soldiers and made it clear this was an old war that the U.S. could never solve. My best evidence for this is what happened after: as soon as Trump made the announcement, and the inevitable and predictable pushback exploded across TV and the political world, he backtracked. He began levying threats against Turkey about how he would destroy its economy if it didn’t act humanely. He oscillated between praising Turkey, threatening Turkey, praising the Kurds and claiming this was all part of a larger deal to bring the U.S. money. Each of these reflects what Trump was hearing and seeing on television and the heat he was getting from the people around him.

Of course, other things play a role in this, too. Trump has some dove-ish instincts when it comes to war, at least in the sense that not “wasting” American soldiers has long been a crux of his foreign policy. He was ripe for the picking, as folks might say, and Erdogan probably hit the sweet spot by trying to explain that the U.S. soldiers weren’t doing much. That has been Trump’s justification in the aftermath — that we aren’t the policeman of the world. Of course, the small number of soldiers in Syria was a low-cost, highly-effective way to keep Turkey out and keep things stable, but that’s not something Trump would have heard in his last phone call.

There’s also plenty of speculation about Trump and Erdogan’s business dealings and all the things we can’t see. There are a lot of wealthy, politically involved people in Turkey, and POTUS has two Trump towers there. It’s difficult for me not to at least imagine what kind of connections, inroads and leverage exist between the leaders, and what kind of favors or exchanges Erdogan may have called in. Those angles on this story (probably) won’t be known for a while, but what we do know is that the last person to have the president’s ear is usually the most successful.


A story that matters:

In Dallas, Texas, a social experiment called “America in One Room” took place last month. The experiment lasted a whole weekend and pitted Republicans and Democrats against each other on some major topics in America. Throughout the weekend, the researchers found that by discussing the issues face-to-face, both sides moved to the middle. Republicans softened “on ‘reducing the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the US’ by large margins,” according to Axios, and Democrats “weren't as steadfast about increasing the minimum wage to $15/hour.” Common ground was also found on DACA and increasing visas for low-skilled workers, among other immigration issues. While the study doesn’t mimic real life, where most people are surrounded by like-minded people in person and online, it shows that if Americans talk to each other they may be able to moderate their views. You can read more here.


The poll everyone’s talking about.

In a recent Fox News poll, 51 percent of Americans say Trump should be impeached and removed from office, up 9 percent from where it was in July. Four percent said he should be impeached but not removed and just 40 percent said he should be impeached (down 5 percent from July). Fox News cable may be known for its right-wing pundits, but its polling unit is one of the best in the business. Despite publishing many favorable polls for Trump in the past, the president attacked Fox News on Twitter.


Have a nice day.

Carbon emissions are already falling in 30 cities worldwide, according to members of the C40 summit. The group of global cities is reporting on its own emissions ahead of the World Mayors Summit in Copenhagen and they’re coming up with some encouraging results. Austin, Athens, Lisbon and Venice joined 26 other major cities in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, according to CityLab. On average, the 30 cities have reduced emissions by 22 percent. You can read more here.


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President Trump goes to war, sets off impeachment battle.

Also, are Democrats being fair in their inquiry?

Today’s read: 7 minutes.

Trump is refusing to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, a question on impeachment history and why you should avoid Facebook news.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Yom Kippur.

Today is Yom Kippur, often called the “most somber” and holy holiday of the year for Jews. It’s a time to repent, and observant Jews are fasting from sundown last night until the first star appears in the sky tonight. If you want to offer an appropriate greeting, you can wish your Jewish friends an “easy fast.” By the way: I love recognizing religious holidays, both obscure and mainstream. If you ever have a holiday you think should get a shoutout in Tangle, just let me know (I’m a Jew, so these ones are easy to remember). I love learning about other traditions and believe it’s good for society to recognize different cultures when we can.


Don’t @ me.

Yesterday, I received quite a bit of feedback about my breakdown of the story on Elizabeth Warren. A number of my more left-leaning readers wrote in disappointed that I gave the story oxygen and were upset I didn’t share some of the pushback to the story that poked holes in its logic. One right-leaning reader felt like I gave Warren too much credit, and another independent asked that I spoke more about her past. I tried my best to shoot down the middle, but here is some commentary on the story to appease these readers.


Today’s headline.

A historian on Twitter offered a compelling reason not to frame what Trump is doing as “war” — the exact way I framed it in today’s newsletter. Though I haven’t changed the headline, I thought it was worth acknowledging as it struck me as a fair criticism. Dr. Jennifer Mercieca said, “Trump would love for his legitimate and legally required impeachment inquiry to be understood as illegitimate. One way to create that understanding is to attack the process (it's a scam, a ploy, a witch-hunt) and the people who are leading it (many ad hominem attacks).” She believes framing this as a war is exactly what Trump wants, and creates the image that he’s under attack from an irrational enemy. You can read her thread here:


What D.C. is talking about.

An 8-page letter from the White House to Congress makes one thing crystal clear: President Trump is not going to cooperate. Yesterday, the White House instructed the US Ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, to refuse to testify in front of the House. Sondland helped set up the phone call between Trump and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, which is now at the center of the impeachment inquiry. Then, last night, the White House sent a letter to House Democrats saying it would not cooperate with the impeachment inquiry. The White House said the inquiry was an effort to “overturn the results of the 2016 election,” called it a “partisan and unconstitutional inquiry” and referred to it as a “kangaroo court.” It added that no other documents or witnesses would be provided.

What Democrats are saying.

Like hell, they won’t. If this is the route the President wants to go, he’s effectively digging his own grave. Democrats say that his failure to comply with their demands for documents or witnesses could, in and of itself, form its own article of impeachment. Words like “obstruction” are already being thrown around. They’re also floating a lot of ideas about what changed. Just last week, President Trump said he “always” cooperates and insisted he’d work together with Democrats, saying the accusations were bogus. Then the text messages between his diplomats — including Sondland — were made public, which seems to have thrown a wrench into things. Most Democrats say the timing of the White House’s decision to block Sondland and change course raises serious questions about what Trump thinks they were going to find — or what Sondland would say (even though in the text messages Sondland claims there was no quid pro quo).

Others have seized on the content of the letter to the House Democrats. Jonathan Lemire, the White House reporter for the Associated Press, said it was “pure scorched earth” but “lacked much in the way of legal arguments, seemingly citing cable TV news appearances as often as case law. And legal experts cast doubt upon its effectiveness.” Liberal (and even some conservative) pundits have gone much further. Former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau said the letter “is truly insane and embarrassing even by Trump White House standards.”

What Republicans are saying.

It is bogus, and Trump should fight. Senator Lindsey Graham, while simultaneously dragging Trump through the mud on his Syria decision, says he is going to invite Rudy Giuliani — Trump’s personal lawyer — before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify. Trey Gowdy, the former South Carolina congressman who was responsible for overseeing the House inquiry into Benghazi, is reportedly joining Trump’s legal team. Mitch McConnell is claiming the House has “fallen short by failing to follow the same basic procedures that it has followed for every other president in our history.” Last night, The Washington Examiner’s Byron York reported that the Intelligence Community inspector general told lawmakers the Trump-Ukraine whistleblower had a working relationship with one of the current 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. York’s reporting was initially doubted (The Washington Examiner leans heavily right), but Axios’s Jonathan Swan confirmed it.

While some House Republicans were “frustrated” by Trump’s letter, they have in large part aligned themselves with the president’s talking points. And instead of just playing defense, it looks like they are going to be aggressive in trying to poke holes in the whistleblower’s story and the way House Democrats are handling the impeachment process. While Reps. Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz, Scott Perry and Lee Zeldin all defended Trump to the media, Democrats had just Rep. Adam Schiff — who didn’t take questions — pushing the Democrats’ story last night. That has some conservatives claiming the left is trying to avoid tough questions.

My take.

If Trump wants to fight, he should fight in the Senate. I don’t see any House Democrats breaking the law or running afoul of the constitution, and I don’t think it’s fair any longer to frame this as a 2016 revenge tour. Trump won the election, he came to office, and he’s given his opposition plenty of ammunition to claim he was unfit for the job. Now he’s literally provided evidence to the public that he asked foreign leaders to investigate his political rival, which in any other presidency would be an impeachable offense. And since those transcripts weren’t received how he thought they would be, it appears he is planning to stonewall Congress altogether. As an American citizen and as a reporter, we should all be advocating for transparency. I want to see what the president is trying to keep from the public’s view, and the easiest way to do that is through a House impeachment inquiry. But if his administration continues to keep witnesses from testifying, there is little the House can do. Their only option is to go to court and get a federal judge to compel witness testimony, but they’re already fighting similar battles with the administration over different witnesses and documents and it could take months or years to get the court order they need.

Trump’s team has very much enjoyed framing this whole thing in legal and court terms, so let me play along: the House’s job isn’t to determine whether Trump is guilty. An impeachment inquiry is not a trial — it’s an indictment. This is the accusation: Trump pressured foreign leaders into investigating his political rival. If he wants to stand trial and defend himself, that happens in the Senate. But obstructing the House from even getting its hands on the available evidence, the evidence he claims will absolve him of any wrongdoing, is in itself incriminating.

And some pieces of a thread worth reading:


Your questions, answered.

If you have a question you want answered, simply reply to this email and write in. Tangle is all about helping you, the reader, get the information you want without having to wade through the news.

Q: In the midst of the bombast of the White House's letter refusing to comply with the House's impeachment investigation, the President's attorney points out that full votes were taken to commence formal impeachment inquiries for past presidents. How true is that, and, if it is at least somewhat true, why hasn't Speaker Pelosi followed that procedure to deprive the President of that argument?

- Chas, Brooklyn, NY

Tangle: Thanks for writing in, and great question. The claims you’re asking about in the president’s letter are — in a way — true. If I were a fact-checking website I think I’d rate them “mostly” true. It is accurate that both President Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton had impeachment inquiries authorized by a full vote in the House. It’s also true that Pelosi has opted against holding that vote, and as a result, Republicans lack any subpoena power to call their own witnesses (Republicans are in the minority in the House of Representatives). What isn’t true is that this is a violation of the constitution. In fact, as The New York Times noted, “it is not clear that she [Pelosi] has any constitutional obligation to follow those precedents. The Constitution says that the House “shall have the sole power of impeachment,” but provides no process or rules, meaning each House that has considered it has proceeded as it chose to.”

Pelosi is breaking precedent, but so is Trump’s team. They have been unthinkably abrasive and resistant to subpoena and document requests throughout their time in the White House and one could pretty easily craft a case that Pelosi’s calculation here to move forward with the inquiry without holding a vote is fair. The letter sent to the House Democrats was crafted by White House counsel Pat Cipollone. It was an unusual mix of conservative punditry talking points and legal arguments, making it difficult to parse at times. My takeaway was that Cipollone was telling the House the only way Trump would cooperate is if Democrats stopped the very things that make an inquiry an inquiry.

As for Pelosi’s rationale, I think it’s pretty simple: she wants to protect vulnerable House members. Holding a vote means everyone would have to pick a side on impeachment now, which is a dangerous game to play. A lot of Democrats are in purple or Trump-leaning districts and some just won a 2018 election that saw massive Democratic turnout. 2020 won’t be the same game, as presidential election years usually leave voters picking a party line and sticking to it. Pelosi knows this. If she forces her members into an impeachment vote, and vulnerable Democrats vote to impeach Trump, that vote will be the crux of every Republican ad against them in 2020. There isn’t a ton of data to support the idea that this would hurt Democrats, but Pelosi is the House Speaker because she has sharp political instincts, and the conventional wisdom is that impeachment is unpopular with independent and moderate voters (though the polls are moving).


Nope.

Apparently, armies of tarantulas — thousands of them — are about to start marching through San Francisco looking for mates and love. Scientists are trying to warn citizens that they are “gentle giants” and need not be feared. I’ll be taking a hard pass on any visits to the Bay Area. (As if things couldn’t be any more terrifying, San Franciscans are also dealing with a huge power outage that will affect 800,000 people — so these tarantulas will have the dark of night for cover). You can read more from the WSJ here.

Screenshot: WSJ article

A story that matters.

In case you weren’t already carrying yourself this way, it’s probably a good idea to read everything you find on Facebook with a great deal of skepticism. Yesterday, Facebook denied a request from Joe Biden’s campaign to remove an ad that falsely accuses Biden of corruption for his role in Ukraine policy during the Obama admin. Facebook said their decision was "grounded in Facebook's fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and belief that in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is." They also added that advertisements are not sent to third-party fact-checkers. The story highlights where Facebook is drawing lines in the 2020 election after being heavily scrutinized for its role in spreading disinformation in 2016, and it appears the company is going to let propaganda run wild. You can read more here.


Numbers.

  • 8 points. That’s how much Bernie Sanders’ electability went down since his heart attack last week.

  • 66 percent. The number of Democrats who say his health is a “legitimate issue.”

  • 37 percent. The percentage of registered voters who think Elizabeth Warren would beat Trump in 2020.

  • 45 percent. The percentage of registered voters who think Warren would lose to Trump in 2020.

  • 22 percent. The percentage of primary voters who would be disappointed if Joe Biden won the nomination, the third-highest (behind Marianne Williamson and Tulsi Gabbard).


P.S.

Chaos is about to break out in the Middle East, experts say. Turkey has officially begun its military operation into northeastern Syria as it aims to push out the U.S. backed Syrian Kurds. Turkish airplanes are already carrying out airstrikes, one spokesman for the U.S. backed militia said. Trump has been under fire for effectively greenlighting Turkey’s operation, which many Republicans and Democrats said amounted to abandoning our allies and leaving them to die. The military operation confirms those fears and civilians are now fleeing the area. You can read Tangle’s previous coverage of this story here.


Have a nice day.

Hate him or love him, Jimmy Carter is pretty much a mensch. The former president made news this week when, at the age of 95, he showed up to kick off a Habitat for Humanity build with 14 stitches and a black eye. Carter had suffered a fall in his home just hours before, but that didn’t stop him from traveling to Nashville to participate in the volunteer event. Carter has become well-known in his post-presidency life for volunteer work all across the globe. He and his wife have worked alongside 103,000 volunteers in 14 different countries. You can read more here.


The NBA steps on a live grenade.

Plus, a Trump cover up develops and the Joshua Brown story.

Today’s read: 8 minutes.

Politics collided with the NBA, Trump stonewalls an investigation and a look into the murder after the murder in the Botham Jean case.

Photo: Keith Ellison, Wikimedia Commons

First up.

The Trump administration has directed a top American diplomat involved in the Ukraine scandal to not appear for his scheduled hearing in front of the House of Representatives. Ambassador Gordon Sondland was blocked from testifying before Congress by the State Department, a decision his lawyer said he cannot push back on (Sondland has to take orders from the State Department). Democrats are already saying the move amounts to obstruction of justice and are raising questions about what Sondland knows that the administration is trying to cover up. Sondland’s name first came to prominence when his texts appeared in transcripts released last week. In one exchange, he told another U.S. diplomat to call him after that diplomat said he thought it was “crazy” to withhold security clearance in exchange for help in a political campaign. Many interpreted that moment as Sondland trying to cover his tracks. Click.


What D.C. is talking about.

The NBA. Over the weekend, Houston Rockets’ general manager set off a firestorm by tweeting out his support for the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. His tweet was an image that said, "Fight for Freedom. Stand for Hong Kong" (if you need a refresher on what’s happening in China, you can read Tangle’s coverage here). Daryl Morey, the GM of the Rockets, quickly deleted his tweet and the owner of the Rockets immediately apologized. But it was too late. Chinese partners cut off their ties with the Rockets, the biggest relationship between China and any NBA team in the league. Tencent Holdings also suspended its streaming of the Houston Rockets, a shocking move just months after it coughed up billions of dollars to extend a deal with the NBA. 500 million people watched the NBA on Tencent in China last year, more than the entire population of the United States. China’s state television station said it was canceling its plans to air NBA preseason games. The NBA reacted to the news by quickly apologizing to China and its fans, realizing it had just put millions of dollars in peril. The Chinese Basketball Association also canceled its ties with the NBA, another stunning move considering Yao Ming — the league president — became a global sensation during his time with the Rockets. His legacy is why the Rockets are the most popular team in China.

What Republicans are saying.

Stand up and fight. NBA players who the left lauds as courageous social justice warriors and unafraid of any political blowback are now cowering to China? To a country that restricts the freedom of its people and has effectively imprisoned millions of Muslims? It’s the ultimate hypocrisy. The league has stood staunchly by its players when they trash conservatives and Trump, claiming to be so progressive and player-first that everyone is entitled to their own voice. But now, with the bottom line on the table, the NBA is backing down and letting a country like China walk all over it. Even worse, it wasn’t like Morey was trashing China. He was legitimately just sending out a pro-democracy tweet, and the NBA left him out to dry and sided with the money. Even Steve Kerr, who has been elevated as some kind of hero of truth in the era of Trump, played coy when asked about the issue. Kerr said “it’s a really bizarre international story and a lot of us don’t know what to make of it… What I’ve found is it’s easy to speak on issues that I’m passionate about and that I feel like I’m well-versed on and I’ve found that it makes the most sense to stick to topics that fall in that category.” Kerr said his brother was a Chinese history professor and he emailed him to ask what he should be learning about. But it’s hard to believe Kerr — who grew up going to an international school and whose father was killed in an act of political violence — doesn’t know enough about China to know that it’s literally a totalitarian regime.

What Democrats are saying.

Depends which Democrats. None are going to step out on a limb to defend China, and many have stepped in line to criticize the NBA. Just as frequently, though, they are pointing the hypocrisy finger right back at Republicans. When Marco Rubio criticized the NBA, he was quickly drowned in criticism. The day before he had defended Trump after the president called on China to investigate Biden — now he was suddenly very serious about China? Speaking of Trump: he literally just congratulated China on 70 years of communist rule. He’s heaped praise on President Xi Jinping and went as far as saying Xi was “great” for changing China’s rules so he could be president for life. Also, all these Republicans who dogpiled Colin Kaepernick for getting involved in politics as an athlete are suddenly clamoring for NBA players and execs to get involved in politics. Can anyone pick a side and stick to it with some consistency?

My take.

This is a very bad look for the NBA. I’m a big basketball fan and a big Brooklyn Nets fan. Seeing Joe Tsai, their Taiwanese-born owner, dive in and defend China (calling pro-democracy activists “a separatist movement”) is deeply disturbing. Seeing Steve Kerr, one of the “coolest” coaches in all of basketball, so obviously dodge a question and cower to the profits is deeply deflating. The deafening silence from LeBron James, Gregg Popovich, etc. is just weak beyond words. I often caution my friends when they speak about Russia, Iran, China, or any other American “adversary” to be careful distinguishing between a nation’s leaders and a nation’s people. I have Russian heritage and close friends with Iranian and Chinese backgrounds. I’m not some inherently bad person and neither are they.

But the Chinese government is not something Americans should be afraid to criticize. Why is the Chinese government bad? It can detain people without trial for up to six months in a system called “liuzhi.” Top officials frequently disappear. It controls religious and ethnic freedoms and has carried out mass detention and torture of various groups of Muslims. Advocates for human rights and democracy are frequently imprisoned. The government controls the internet, mass media, academia and pushes propaganda on national television. Now it’s using state of the art technology to collect biometric data and voice samples to automate surveillance of its citizens, and it’s selling that tech to smaller countries across the world. This is just the tip of the iceberg. You can read more about China from the Human Rights Watch here.

More related to this, Hong Kongers’ protests in China started after an extradition bill was proposed that would have allowed critics of the Chinese regime to be extradited there for punishment. Millions of people poured into the street to try to stop the bill from moving forward, knowing full well what it meant for their freedom. China responded by infiltrating Hong Kong and pressuring the Hong Kong government to forcefully shut down protests. It also tried to smoke out anyone in mainland China who supported the protesters.

And most concerning of all is that China is powerful. As we can see with the NBA, it’s learning to use its market power — 1.5 billion consumers — to pressure Americans into shutting up about these abuses. It got the biggest three airlines in the U.S. — American, Delta and United — to scrub references to Taiwan as its own country. It got the Marriot to apologize to China by shutting down its website for listing Hong Kong as a separate country. It’s gotten Hollywood to change content under the threat that it wouldn’t allow that content in Chinese theaters.

The appropriate response, to all of this, actually came from an unusual moral compass: South Park. Just as this NBA controversy exploded, South Park was erased from major platforms in China for making fun of the way China censures people and propagandizes its population. As the NBA mangled its response to similar censorship, South Park’s creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone issued a fake apology: “Like the N.B.A., we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts,” the tongue-in-cheek statement read. “We too love money more than freedom and democracy. Xi doesn’t look just like Winnie the Pooh at all.”

This is the way forward. Do not bend to China’s market power and do not allow a government so obviously willing to oppress its people force powerful American businesses and executives into kowtowing garbage political lines.

South Park@SouthPark
Watch the full episode -
cart.mn/sp-2302 @THR article - cart.mn/china

Your questions, answered.

Q: Regarding the killing of Joshua Brown...we've got the mayor of Dallas telling people to "refrain from speculation", and the Dallas Police Department saying they are investigating the shooting, but haven't identified a suspect or motive. This situation is bizarre and devastating. "Speculations" aside, a federal investigation is warranted, right?
- Trent, Seattle, WA

Tangle: For those of you who aren’t caught up, a quick summary: Last week, I told you about Botham Jean, the African-American man who was killed in his apartment by off-duty police officer Amber Guyger. Guyger was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the shooting, which she says was a result of her walking into the wrong apartment and believing she was confronting Jean, an intruder. Guyger testified that she gave several verbal commands to Jean that he ignored before she shot him (one imagines most people would ignore verbal commands given to them in their own apartment). Still, Guyger’s testimony that she tried to diffuse what she thought was a burglary was crucial to her defense. Enter Joshua Brown.

Brown was Jean’s neighbor. He was out that night watching football, and came home as the shooting unfolded. Brown claimed he heard “the mixing of voices” and no such commands in his testimony. Then the gunshots rang out. He also testified that he saw Guyger on the phone and crying after the shooting, explaining that she thought she was in her own apartment. Several sources around Brown said he was resistant to the idea of testifying because he thought it would put him in danger. Now people are convinced that fear was well-founded: Brown was shot twice and killed outside the new apartment he had moved into after Botham Jean’s killing. Immediately, speculation erupted that the Dallas Police Department was implicated in the shooting. People saw it as a clear retaliation for Brown testifying. It doesn’t help that Guyger and her partner apparently exchanged racist text messages and deleted others before Guyger killed Jean, all adding to the idea that the Dallas PD would punish Brown for his testimony.

Naturally, the real story is a bit more complicated. Brown himself was involved in another shooting after Jean’s death where another man was killed. Brown was shot in the foot outside of a strip club. At the time, and since that shooting, Brown has said he believed he was the true target of the altercation. That’s part of the reason he didn’t want to testify: he thought the exposure of the case would bring him too much attention. "Josh Brown expressed concerns about the exposure he would get from this trial and expressed concerns for his safety," S. Lee Merritt, who represented Jean and is now the lawyer for Brown’s family, told the Today show. "A lot of people believe, including himself, apparently, that he was the target of that shooting, and he was afraid somebody might come and try to finish the job.”

So far, there is little evidence around the case besides the fact witnesses saw a silver sedan speed away after the shooting. I’m not going to speculate on what happened here without more information, but I will say two things: One, whoever shot Brown in the foot a few months ago should clearly be the top suspect here. Brown and his lawyer both believed he was in danger and that the people in that altercation really wanted to kill him. That is obviously significant enough to pursue. Two, we absolutely cannot dismiss the idea that the Dallas Police Department could have avenged Guyger. Though it’s little more than a “conspiracy theory” for now, there is plenty of context — like 100 years of history, the text messages in this case or the Ferguson activists who keep showing up dead in trunks — that set a precedent for police departments punishing witnesses.

All that being said, I don’t see how the Dallas Police Department or any other local entity could investigate this murder and come away with something that will satisfy the public. There is no trust between the Dallas PD and the public after this trial, and plenty of people have already made up their minds that the Dallas PD is somehow involved in this killing. So to answer your question: Yes, I think a federal investigation is warranted.


Warren microscope.

Yesterday, the right-wing website Free Beacon published an article it claimed “debunked” one of Elizabeth Warren’s most commonly used stump speeches: that she was “shown the door” from her job as a teacher when she became visibly pregnant. The story Warren tells is both the origin story of how she got into law and a personal tale of what it’s like being a woman in the workforce. Free Beacon used the meeting minutes from a Board of Education meeting where Warren worked that showed the board accepted her resignation “with regret.” Speculation about the veracity of Warren’s story started after a reporter at Jacobin, a far-left socialist magazine, pointed out that in a 2007 interview Warren told a slightly different story: "I worked in a public school system with the children with disabilities. I did that for a year, and then that summer I didn't have the education courses, so I was on an 'emergency certificate,' it was called," Warren said in 2007. "I went back to graduate school and took a couple of courses in education and said, 'I don't think this is going to work out for me.' I was pregnant with my first baby, so I had a baby and stayed home for a couple of years."

Warren’s campaign is standing by the story, and a CBS News break down of the Free Beacon piece tries to unravel the tangle of the story.

"All I know is I was 22 years old, I was 6 months pregnant, and the job that I had been promised for the next year was going to someone else,” Warren told CBS News. “The principal said they were going to hire someone else for my job.” She also said her story changed from 2007 because she decided to “open up” about her past when she became a public figure. The story comes not long after Warren overcame the Native American ancestry story that plagued her early campaign. Warren long claimed she had Native American roots and even took a DNA test to prove it. But the test revealed that she had very limited amounts of Native American ancestry. Then she consequently apologized to Native American groups for calling herself Native American. The president and his supporters have taken the offensive course of calling her “Pocahontas” to mock those claims. You can read more about her claims she was “shown the door” for being pregnant here.


Numbers.

I’m asked almost every day whether I think Trump will be impeached. I’ve never thought the odds were higher than they are right now (remember: impeachment is not the same as being removed from office).


A story that matters.

The Supreme Court is back. Today, justices are hearing “a set of cases testing whether the federal law that bars sex discrimination in employment applies to LGBTQ employees,” according to NPR. The court will determine whether employers are allowed to fire people because they are gay or transgender. Also on the docket this term: the right to abortion, whether gun rights extend outside the home, how separate church and state should be, whether a president is immune from certain investigations. All these cases could see rulings this year. You can read more here.


Have a nice day.

If you’ve ever read about ocean pollution, you’ve probably heard of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s a huge island of trash, three times the size of France (and growing) out in the Pacific Ocean. The trash comes together thanks to the ocean’s natural movements and currents. But this week, the Ocean Cleanup Project reached the GPGP with its own giant floating boom that collects the trash in the ocean. The boom is an invention of the project, about 2,000 feet long, a self-contained catch system that can pick up microplastics as small as 1mm in size. It’s the first successful ocean clean-up project that could put a dent in the patch, and the founders say they hope to collect 50 percent of it in five years and 90 percent by 2040. You can read more here.


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Trump allies turn on him over Syria news.

Plus, the second whistleblower and what it means.

Today’s read: 9 minutes.

Today’s newsletter is as long as Tangle will ever be, but it’s one of the wildest days in the news I can remember. We cover a second whistleblower, the news that has Trump allies turning on him and a lawsuit to get Trump’s taxes.

Photo: Kurdishstruggle / Flickr

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What D.C. is talking about.

The second whistleblower. On Sunday, lawyers representing the whistleblower who filed a complaint against President Donald Trump said a second intelligence official is now being represented by their team. The official is yet to file a formal complaint, but he’s hired the same legal team as the first whistleblower and his lawyers say he has “firsthand knowledge” related to the complaint that President Trump organized a pressure campaign on his Ukrainian counterparts to investigate Joe Biden and his family. News of the second whistleblower comes just days after President Trump, from the White House’s South Lawn, called on China and Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. Many were baffled to see the president openly calling on foreign powers to investigate his political rival in public, the very act that is at the center of the current impeachment inquiry.

What Democrats are saying.

They’re supportive. Democrats are doing everything they can to pave a safe path forward for any current or former administration officials who want to turn over damaging information on the president. “We thank them for their courage,” Adam Schiff, who Tangle covered last week, said. “We thank them for their patriotism. And we hope others will follow their courageous example.”

Jim Himes, the second-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, echoed the sentiment. “What’s happening is that people around the president, professionals, who are in the Oval Office, who are in the Situation Room, are watching what is happening and are finally saying, ‘My God, this cannot happen anymore,’ and they are coming forward,” Himes said.

Democrats say the mere existence of another whistleblower is proof that the president has acted in such concerning ways that the people around him are constantly alarmed. They’re also crossing their fingers about the phrase “firsthand knowledge.” One of the top defenses from Republicans throughout this entire ordeal was that the whistleblower was a “deep state actor” who was working on hearsay and secondhand knowledge. Now, a new whistleblower could be stepping up with firsthand witness testimony of what they’ve seen from the president behind closed doors. That has a lot of Democrats licking their lips.

What Republicans are saying.

Who cares? We already know the first whistleblower contacted Adam Schiff before filing his complaint, didn’t disclose that contact to the inspector general, and then Schiff lied about it on national television. It’s all clearly a “deep state” tactic to take down Trump.

Another new talking point is emerging on the right, too: the president was “baiting the press.” That’s how Republicans handled President Trump using a brief press scrum from the White House to call on China and Ukraine to look into the Bidens last week. Take a look at how these three Republican Senators responded, via Axios:

  • Sen. Marco Rubio to reporters on Friday: "I don't think it's a real request. I think he did it to get you guys. I think he did it to provoke you."

  • Rep. Jim Jordan on ABC's "This Week": "You really think he was serious? ... I think he's getting the press all spun up about this."

  • Sen. Roy Blunt on CBS' "Face the Nation": "I doubt if the China comment was serious… I don't know what the president was thinking, but I know he loves to bait the press, and he does that almost every day." 

Unfortunately for their defenses, neither President Trump nor the White House has claimed he was “joking.” Later, though, Sen. Blunt did take a less defensive posture for Trump. He said he was interested to hear more from the new whistleblower and offered no defense of what Trump may have done to pressure Ukraine into investigating Biden behind closed doors. Rep. Chris Stewart, a Republican from Utah, said he was “not at all” concerned about the new whistleblower because he felt the transcript from Trump’s call with Zelensky — which many Democrats saw as incriminating — totally absolved the president of any wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson was at the center of a Wall Street Journal story on Friday. Johnson told the WSJ that the U.S. ambassador to the European Union told him in August that Ukraine’s aid was tied directly to Trump wanting to open certain investigations, the exact charge Democrats are making. Johnson claims he confronted POTUS about it, who denied the charge. Now Johnson appears to be stepping in line behind the president, telling NBC’s Chuck Todd during a heated exchange that he didn’t trust the CIA or FBI.

Sen. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is taking a strong stance against POTUS. “When the only American citizen President Trump singles out for China’s investigation is his political opponent in the midst of the Democratic nomination process, it strains credulity to suggest that it is anything other than politically motivated,” Romney said on Twitter. He called it “appalling.”

My take.

Things are just getting interesting. First off, this is just about the only Trump story I can remember that has stayed squarely in the news for more than a week during Trump’s time as president. The only thing that came close was the “grab ‘em by the p*ssy” video, but that was before he was in office. And more is going to come out. This week, two senior American diplomats responsible for relationships with Ukraine earlier this year are going to be testifying to House Democrats. Both were removed for “running afoul of the White House,” as The New York Times put it, so I imagine they’ll have plenty to say. It’s impossible to know what new information — if any — another White House whistleblower will bring forward. To hear some Democrats tell it, the content of new whistleblower information is almost irrelevant: Trump’s impeachable offenses are now happening in public. Which is part of the “Trump genius” his supporters (and critics) can hardly fathom. Trump has so successfully moved the goalposts of what’s acceptable in office it boggles the mind. Imagining a President Obama openly calling for China or Ukraine to investigate Mitt Romney or John McCain is incomprehensible. Every Republican in the Senate would have probably called for his impeachment or an impeachment inquiry, and they would have lined up for primetime television spots to decry him as a lawless leader. But now that it’s Trump they are mostly dodging and staying silent.

Even the defenses are getting a bit absurd. As Rep. Justin Amash saliently pointed out, the same Republicans who are now taking the stance that they “don’t trust” the FBI or CIA have repeatedly voted to expand their powers to spy on Americans, foreigners and — apparently — even politicians in Congress.

The premise of the allegations against Biden is starting to fall flat, too. On Fox News, Rudy Giuliani resorted to reading from a right-wing conspiracy blog called HopelesslyPartisan and held up printouts of the articles claiming they were “affidavits.” You could clearly see the “affidavits” were a printout of the right-wing blog, which he then read from moments later. Trump claimed a photo came out of Biden playing golf with the head of Burisma, the company where his son Hunter worked. The photo actually showed Biden golfing with a longtime American business partner of Hunter’s, who also joined the board of Burisma. Tom Fitton, conservative activist and president of Judicial Watch, said Mitch McConnell should “change the rules to protect the constitution” and not have an impeachment trial, a pretty Bizzaro World take for Republicans who claim to be staunchly against any fundamental changes to how the Constitution dictates what happens in Congress.

And that’s just half of it. On Sunday, the Associated Press reported that President Trump’s circle of allies may actually be guilty of similar crimes they are accusing Biden of. According to the AP’s reporting, a circle of businessmen and Republican donors with ties to Trump were trying to install new management in Ukraine’s top state gas company, and then use that management to “steer lucrative contracts to companies controlled by Trump allies.” It’ll be interesting to see how this story evolves and whether it comes back to bite Giuliani.

In the meantime, the whistleblower’s innocence and the politics of impeachment are still being debated. The Inspect General said the whistleblower did not disclose speaking with House intelligence aides before filing the complaint, even though it’s not uncommon. Also, White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney is telling friends that Trump will win 45 states in 2020 landslide if the House impeaches him.


Your questions, answered.

If you have a question you want answered, simply reply to this email and write in. Tangle is all about helping you, the reader, get the information you want without having to wade through the news.

Q: Can you explain what is happening in Syria and why everyone is so upset with Trump?

- Cassandra, Albany, NY.

Tangle: The story about Syria could easily be today’s top piece, as it has lit D.C. on fire this morning, so I’m excited to tackle it. Here’s the general breakdown: Last night, the White House released a surprise statement that they would move out of the way to allow Turkey to execute a long-planned military operation involving what will amount to an invasion of northern Syria. “Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria,” the White House said in a statement released just before 11 p.m. in Washington. “The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘Caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area.”

The operation will almost certainly lead to fighting between Turkish forces and the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds. The Kurds are an ethnic group in the area that, for the most part, operates separately from Syria’s government or Turkey. Their best known in America for being a reliable partner in the fight against ISIS, though Turkey claims that the Kurds themselves are a terrorist insurgency. Yes, it’s as messy as it sounds.

So what does this mean? It depends who you ask. In practical terms, it means President Trump is ordering the U.S. military to stand down and get out of the way. Troops are reportedly abandoning the border, where they’ve been supporting the Kurds for many years. To his supporters, and even to lots of liberal critics, this is consistent with Trump’s foreign policy approach. He wants to pull the U.S. out of “endless wars” overseas and let other countries work conflict out on their own. That’s the Trump doctrine (when it’s convenient). To everyone else, the move amounts to Trump abandoning our most staunch ally in the region after years of asking them to fight for us. The Kurds have lost tens of thousands of soldiers while combating ISIS on behalf of the U.S., and now — when the pressure is on — we’re leaving them out to dry. Here are some reactions, including from allies (Lindsey Graham and Nikki Haley), critics (Chris Murphy) and an Obama holdover who was temporarily Trump’s special envoy to combatting ISIS (Brett McGurk):

The move has even set off critics in what are usually reliable Trump-friendly spaces like Fox News’s morning show Fox & Friends. This morning, Brian Kilmeade excoriated Trump and called it a “disaster,” asking what message we were sending to our allies. The moment clearly caught his co-hosts off-guard, who tried and failed to assuage him and steer the conversation into a positive direction for Trump.

While President Trump claims ISIS has been defeated, reporters and diplomats on the ground insist ISIS is still finding ways to thrive despite the amount of the territory its lost in the last few years. Ceding this area of northern Syria to Turkey will, as the Trump critics tell it, lead to an ISIS renewal and destabilize the region in a way we haven’t seen for years.

Other more staunch critics of POTUS are pointing to his two Trump towers in Turkey and his cordial relationship with Turkey’s president as key to this entire policy decision. Those critics are saying it’s just another classic case of Trump looking out for personal relationships over the country.

Trump, often the best at delivering his administration’s defense, has drawn his line in the sand. He issued the following statement through a thread of tweets: “The United States was supposed to be in Syria for 30 days, that was many years ago. We stayed and got deeper and deeper into battle with no aim in sight. When I arrived in Washington, ISIS was running rampant in the area. We quickly defeated 100% of the ISIS Caliphate, including capturing thousands of ISIS fighters, mostly from Europe. But Europe did not want them back, they said you keep them USA! I said “NO, we did you a great favor and now you want us to hold them in U.S. prisons at tremendous cost. They are yours for trials.” They again said “NO,” thinking, as usual, that the U.S. is always the “sucker,” on NATO, on Trade, on everything. The Kurds fought with us, but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so. They have been fighting Turkey for decades. I held off this fight for almost 3 years, but it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN. Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out, and what they want to do with the captured ISIS fighters in their “neighborhood.” They all hate ISIS, have been enemies for years. We are 7000 miles away and will crush ISIS again if they come anywhere near us!”


A story that matters.

In a New York Times op-ed, columnist David Leonhardt says the “400 wealthiest Americans last year paid a lower total tax rate — spanning federal, state and local taxes — than any other income group.” His piece breaks down how the richest households in America are paying a lower tax rate than everyone else, touching on the crux of several left-wing political campaigns for president right now, including Elizabeth Warren’s and Bernie Sanders’. Perhaps most importantly, the op-ed explains how this reality is far different from the one in America in the 1950s or even 1980s. You can read it here.


Speaking of taxes.

This morning, President Trump was ordered to hand over eight years of his personal and corporate taxes by a Manhattan judge. Trump’s lawyers quickly appealed the ruling, which temporarily blocked the ruling and means he doesn’t have to hand them over right now. But the judge’s strongly-worded order caught a lot of people’s attention. In it, Judge Victor Marrero essentially said there are no kings in the United States. He adds that the president’s lawyers’ argument, which amounted to him being immune from criminal investigations because he was president, was “repugnant to the nation’s governmental structure and constitutional values.”


Numbers.

  • 44 percent. That’s the number of Americans who support impeaching President Trump as this inquiry begins. Support for impeachment has risen 11 points to 46 percent amongst independents and 8 points to 14 percent amongst Republicans since May, according to CNN.

  • 38 percent. That’s the number of Americans who supported impeaching Nixon when the House opened its inquiry against the former president.

  • 90. That’s the approximate number of former national-security officials, from both Democratic and Republican administrations, who released a letter calling on the government and media to preserve the whistleblower’s anonymity.


Have a nice day.

A Nigerian neurosurgeon is spending up to 12 days a month providing free health care in Nigeria. Dr. Olawale Sulaiman, 49, lives in Louisiana but was born in Lagos, an experience he says motivates him to provide health care in the developing world. "I am one of 10 children born into a polygamous family. My siblings and I shared one room where we often found ourselves sleeping on a mat on the floor," he told CNN. You can read more about his story here.


Friday Special Edition: Leaked Text Messages Add To Ukraine Story

Plus, that "eat the babies" lady was a hoax.

Today’s read: 4 minutes.

Reminder: Tangle usually hits your inbox Monday through Thursday, unless there is some news that just has to be covered. Typically, I cover the day’s news from both sides, answer a reader question, summarize a smattering of important stories, and send you off with some good news. Today’s special Friday Tangle is abbreviated. Last night, a couple of items popped up I thought were worthwhile: newly revealed text messages between Ukrainian-U.S. diplomats and a bizarre town hall meeting with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I’ll see you back here on Monday.

C-SPAN

What D.C. is talking about.

Last night, a batch of text messages between U.S. diplomats and a senior Ukrainian aide were released by the House Intelligence Committee. The text messages reveal how the diplomats were trying to organize a meeting between Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and Donald Trump. The texts surround the controversial phone call between Trump and Zelensky, in which the president asks Zelensky to investigate the Biden family and dig deeper into the 2016 election interference. That phone call is now at the center of an impeachment inquiry.

What Democrats are saying.

The text messages back up all their claims. On the morning of the phone call, Kurt Volker, who was then serving as the Special Envoy for Ukraine, made sure Ukranian aides understood that Zelensky needed to tell Trump an investigation into the 2016 election would happen. "Heard from the White House -- assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate/'get to the bottom of what happened' in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington," Volker said via text to the Ukrainian adviser on the morning of July 25. Trump wanted Zelensky to look into a fringe conspicracy theory about a wealthy Ukrainian who is allegedly in possession of the Democratic National Committee’s server which was hacked in the 2016 election. Conservatives push the theory to allege that it was Ukraine, not Russia, who interfered in 2016 (The New York Times untangles the theory here). The texts also reveal that at least one senior U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, believed that the U.S. was holding Ukraine’s security assistance in exchange for Zelensky to announce that he would investigate Burisma (the company Hunter Biden sat on the board of) and the 2016 election. "Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?" Taylor texted US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. "Call me," Sondland responded.

What Republicans are saying.

To Trump loyalists, the text messages reveal that Trump is trying to get to the bottom of the 2016 election. In their mind, it’s Democrats who don’t want that to happen, because they were the ones who were acting shady and creating trumped-up charges of Russia collusion. Many Trump supporters have stock in the theory that Ukraine was actually involved in helping Clinton during the 2016 election, and they’re happy to see Trump was earnestly exploring it. Others are keeping the focus on the whistleblower, Adam Schiff, or justifying why Trump wanted to move transcripts of his calls to a classified server — because they keep leaking. Many Republican members of Congress are also insisting that the transcripts of their behind-closed-door testimony with Volker be released to the public. Those members of Congress say Volker’s testimony, which took place yesterday morning, will punch holes in the Democrats’ theory. In some circles, the texts do seem to have moved the needle. Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel, co-founders of the right-wing Daily Caller website, posted a strongly worded op-ed criticizing Trump in the wake of the text messages released. “Donald Trump should not have been on the phone with a foreign head of state encouraging another country to investigate his political opponent, Joe Biden. Some Republicans are trying, but there’s no way to spin this as a good idea.” The op-ed does go on to accuse Obama’s FBI of trying “to crush Trump in the last election” and argues there was no quid-pro-quo and the call does not “rise to the level of an impeachable offense.”

My take.

I’m not sure the texts could be any clearer. You can read them for yourself here. The diplomats involved in organizing a Trump-Zelensky White House meeting and the phone call seemed to be crystal clear on the fact Trump wanted Zelensky to open an investigation into Burisma and say he would look more into the 2016 election. The president meeting Zelensky was conditional on those things happening. Whether foreign aid was at stake is still up for debate, but it’s clear there was something “there.”

To me, this rises to the level of quid-pro-quo. It’s not the quid-pro-quo Democrats initially claimed (foreign aid in exchange for the investigation into Biden), but it’s pretty damn close. Pretending the terms weren’t understood by Trump or Zelensky’s side now is absurd, even if the terms weren’t expressly laid out in the phone call. Clearly, the aides here were ironing out the deal before and after Zelensky and Trump spoke. I’m not sure how someone could argue otherwise. The real question — which House Democrats and Senate Republicans now have to grapple with — is whether this is an impeachable offense.

P.S.

It appears the new Ukrainian prosecutor is going to fulfill Trump’s request. In a breaking New York Times report, Ukraine’s top prosecutor said “he would audit several important cases previously handled by his predecessors, including a criminal case involving the owner of a natural gas company that employed a son of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.” Click.


Baby eater.

Last night, a video of an Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez town hall quickly went viral. In it, a woman is seen warning Cortez that because the planet is warming so fast, we need to start eating babies to preserve it. The woman was fearful of climate change and her solution was eating children. AOC, clearly uncomfortable in the moment, suggested that the woman calm down and told her we had time to solve the climate crisis. Conservative media immediately jumped on the video, which — to me, at least — was obviously absurd on its face. Ryan Saavedra, a right-wing reporter, shared the video on Twitter. It moved through the ecosystem up to Tucker Carlson, who played it on Fox News. Then Donald Trump Jr. shared it, and eventually the president — who called AOC a “whack job.”

As it turns out, the “AOC supporter” in the video who is allegedly unhinged about climate change is actually a member of the LaRouche PAC. The LaRouche PAC is a fringe political activist group that was born out of the life work of Lyndon LaRouche, a cultish political figure who used to run (and lose) for various offices as a Democrat. The LaRouche PAC has in recent years taken a strong pro-Trump stance and the activist in the video was actually a pro-Trump plant who was there to make AOC look bad. Of course, none of the reporters who fell for the stunt are admitting it now. I tried (and failed) to get Saavedra and a few other prominent conservative journalists to correct the record on Twitter:


Numbers.


See you next week.

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